Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Master of His Medium: E.B. Aldrich, the East Oregonian, and the First Global Conflict in Pendleton

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Master of His Medium: E.B. Aldrich, the East Oregonian, and the First Global Conflict in Pendleton

Article excerpt

THE CENTENNIAL OF THE GREAT WAR has significantly rekindled interest in the world's first global conflict and its consequences. The war made the United States a world power, a development that leads to questions about how it played out on the home front. A series of intriguing new works by Christopher Capozzola, Michael Neiberg, Jennifer Keene, and Adriane Lentz-Smith ably cover the national scene. (1) But the conflict's impact beyond the major cities remains mostly terra incognita. Fortunately, the editor of the East Oregonian (EO) newspaper offers a pathway for that study. Edwin Burton Aldrich's extensive daily coverage from the Sarajevo assassination in 1914 into the 1920s constitutes a detailed and valuable first draft of the conflict's local history. But Aldrich was much more than a scribe. After the United States entered the war in April 1917, he became the de facto local chairman of a national movement Capozzola termed "coercive voluntarism." Aldrich recognized that he and his newspaper were ideally positioned to shape Pendleton's response to the war. Taking advantage of his near-monopoly on area media, he put the EO to work, mobilizing Pendleton's citizens, outlining their responsibilities in the local campaign for victory, and becoming the chief recruiter, cheerleader, and enforcer for the cause. Aldrich's unique dual roles during this fraught period make it possible to uncover some interesting truths about the impact of the Great War on a small western town.

PRESENTING THE PREWAR, JUNE 1914-APRIL 1917

The EO's editor for forty-two eventful years, E.B. Aldrich, was raised in west central Oregon and educated at Oregon Agricultural College. (2) He had majored in agriculture and worked for the school paper before taking a job in Pendleton. In his first EO column as primary editor, he made clear that he viewed the paper as more than a vehicle for selling advertising. "The highest creed of the East Oregonian is the good of the town, the county, the state and the country," he wrote. "With all its energy the paper will continue to work for the advancement of Pendleton." (3) The Aldrich editorial modus operandi became clear when financial difficulties imperiled the Pendleton Woolen Mills, a key local industry. He laid out the facts of the case in a series of editorials arguing that, if properly managed, the mill stood to reap a substantial yearly profit, employ up to 200 local people, and make or break Pendleton's long-term prosperity. (4) He called out naysayers and stand-patters, declaring that if the mill's future could be secured with a mere $8,000, "the people of this city and county should be kicked 50 miles if they allow this plant to be taken away." (5) He then lobbied publicly and privately to bring together ranchers and financiers to make the necessary arrangements. Within a year, the mill was back up and running, and Pendleton robes, shawls, and couch covers went on sale in New York. (6) Another constant in Aldrich's editorship--his Democratic politics--came into focus during the 1912 presidential election. In letters to the campaign and in his editorials, Aldrich enthusiastically backed Woodrow Wilson, perceiving him to be an advocate of "equitable prosperity," a better choice for ordinary Americans who, in today's political parlance, work hard and play by the rules. (7) The New Jersey governor also appeared to be a well-prepared, sober steward of the country in a time of heightening international tension. After the election, Aldrich expressed confidence in Wilson's judgment about intervention in the ongoing instability in Mexico. (8) Afterward, he lauded Wilson's courage in standing up to "jingoists" bent on "licking the Mexicans," showing prudence and restraint in his handling of that crisis. Wilson, Aldrich asserted, never "lost sight of the terrible price of war." (9)

Aside from the Mexican situation, Aldrich made few comments on foreign affairs before 1914, but a solid background in history and geography served him and his readers well when conflict loomed in Europe during that summer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.